Mideast: EU urges Israel to stop illegal settlements

Around 300,000 Israelis live east of the 1967 Green Line that separates Israel from the West Bank. The figures exclude East Jerusalem, which is home to mostly Arabs, but more than 191,000 Jewish settlers live there as well.

Brussels, 17 March (AKI) - European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana has urged Israel to stop the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, saying they represent "an obstacle to peace." Solana made the remarks on Tuesday at a meeting of the Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly in the Belgian capital, Brussels.

Solana's view was endorsed by the Czech Republic's foreign minister Karl Schwarzenberg, who also urged Israel to find a solution to the issue of illegal settlements.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Monday, Solana said the EU may reconsider its relationship with Israel if the country's new government led by Israel's prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu was not committed to establishing a Palestinian state.

"Let me say very clearly that the way the European Union will relate to an [Israeli] government which is not committed to a two-state solution will be very,very different," said Solana.

Solana also said he was hoping a Palestinian unity government could be created based on democratic elections scheduled for January 2010.

Concern about EU-Israel relations has emerged after speculation that far-right politician Avigdor Lieberman may be Israel's foreign minister in the incoming Israeli government after signing a coalition agreement with Netanyahu, who heads the conservative Likud party.

Lieberman is a strong supporter of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, favours redrawing Israel's borders to remove non-Jewish Israelis and annex occupied territory settled by Jews.

Lieberman himself lives in the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, located south of the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

Israel's construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has increased distrust of Israel's intentions among Palestinian negotiators.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law and are a major source of friction between Israelis and Palestinians. They are one of the most contentious issues in their long-running conflict.

In late January before Israel's general elections, Israeli rights group Peace Now, said Jewish settlement construction in the Palestinian territories had increased in the previous year and predicted it would end efforts for a two-state solution to the conflict.

The same group in March said that according to Israeli government data, at least 15,000 housing units had been approved by the Israeli housing ministry and there were plans for an additional 58,000 homes.

Such a move would double the population of Jewish settlers inside the Palestinian territories.


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